A whole lot can happen in a single day… As the journey was a day in Singapore on the way to India, I had printed a list from the internet of attractions that I wanted to see while there. Arriving in the middle of the night at the Singapore International Changi Airport was what I would call a top rated airport experience. Tired from a long flight of sixteen hours, I made my way to the Ambassador Transit Hotel within the airport. Many international airports have lounges, day hotels and shower facilities, but Singapore really does it right. Since it was 2:00 a.m., I needed a place to shower and sleep for a few hours. The shower facility is beautifully done in Asian style, simplistic, modern and pleasant with bamboo and flowers. A simple bed for a nap was perfect, quiet and private. What better way to start a day in Singapore- clean, rested and ready to visit the City.
Simply checking my bag for the day at the airport, I took my light shoulder bag that I like to use for trekking around town and I was ready to go. About 7:00 a.m. I caught the bus into downtown Singapore. As I gazed through the large clean windows, I saw beautifully lined streets of exotic palms and blue sky, with buildings that were two and three stories high with unique designs and colors. The beauty of Singapore was starting to unfold before me. After a very brief twenty-minute ride to downtown and a short walk, I was at my first stop, the truly majestic and famous Raffles Hotel, now a national monument. In the balmy tropical air and early morning sunshine, this colonial style building sparkled white. I stood there taking it all in.
Raffles Hotel was the place in Singapore I wanted to visit the most, for its architecture and its incredible history. It is named after Singapore’s founder Sir Stamford Raffles. Just being there you can start to sense the connection to the past- tremendous history, mystery, romance, times gone by, stories of war and political take-over, of English gentlemen in white jackets smoking skinny cigars, of summer nights and a flavored drink called the Singapore Sling.
Entering the majestic front hall and parlor with carpeted stairs leading up to a second level, I felt like I was stepping back in time. The hotel was frequented by well-known writers such as Rudyard Kipling, Ernest Hemingway and James Michener; celebrities such as Jean Harlow and Elizabeth Taylor; royalty including Queen Elizabeth II. Many have graced its grounds spanning over a century of time since it was built in 1899.
The hotel was under Japanese occupation during World War II and it was even used as a transit camp for prisoners at the end of the war. In the 1990’s the hotel was renovated and it has changed owners a few times along the way, but it is still the same. Service is impeccable and I’m escorted into the dining hall to a breakfast bar with exotic fruits and foods many of which I am unfamiliar. There is a large choice of eastern and western foods, cappuccino and teas, delicious Indian hot dishes, Asian delicacies and all served in beautiful sterling service. Breakfast in itself is something to see and the dining hall a pleasant place to eat, relax and read the morning paper. Honestly, the place was “smashing.” I walked the spacious grounds and visited the stores, entirely enjoying the whole experience. If I had done nothing else in Singapore, this would have been enough.
However, the day awaited me so off I went to Chinatown. My first impression, this is by far the cleanest, most organized Chinatown I’ve ever seen. Actually, some have criticized Singapore for its super clean demeanor and lack of bohemian style environments that often make things more interesting. But honestly, having trekked the planet, I found the cleanliness of Singapore to be quite refreshing. Chinatown had restored many of its shop houses preserving the history of Chinese in Singapore. Making my way to the Buddhist Tooth Relic Temple, I was able to see the fifteen-foot Maitreya Buddha on the first level floor and also visit the Buddhist Cultural Museum. Approximately 40% of Singaporeans practice Buddhism. Interestingly, the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple is also located in the Chinatown area. It was founded in 1827 eight years after the British East India Company established a trading settlement in Singapore. Both temples are architecturally unique and they are active with devotees spending time to pray. I decided to do the same, appreciative to be in Singapore.
From there I made way to the Singapore River to take a “Bumboat Ride.” A bumboat tour on the river is stunning and it is a very pleasant, relaxing three-hour ride. The Singapore River flows under twelve bridges with close up views of Singapore’s majestic business district and numerous historical buildings along its shore. The river snakes in, around and through the city and it is truly fantastic. You can see so much and learn about the city in a very short time. Singapore is a city-state and is the smallest country in SE Asia. It is located at the tip of the Malay Peninsula and has a diverse population of close to 5 million people made up of Chinese, Malays, Indians, Asians of various descents, and Caucasians. Almost half of the population is foreigners who work and study in Singapore. English is spoken on the bumboat ride and it is very easy to communicate with the locals as English is learned in the schools along with the Malay language.
The ride returns back to Boat Quay, which is Singapore’s picturesque and famous row of shops and international restaurants. You can literally walk down the row, shop after shop and pick and choose cuisine from multiple cultures of the world. I decided to go Northern India Punjab style. The restaurant was two stories and I could sit outside on the balcony with a view over the river and admire the city of Singapore enjoying some spicy sag paneer, raita and garlic naan bread. The food was excellent with delicious Indian Chai tea.
I also visited the City Hall building where a history of Singapore and its political rule were provided. Singapore has a unitary system of government. It no longer has a mayor or a city council, but instead has five Community Development Councils established in 1997. The City Hall along with the neighboring Old Supreme Court Building, will be converted into the National Art Gallery of Singapore by 2013.
Singapore presents itself well, and everywhere I went it was interesting and pleasant. Honestly I had no complaints about this amazing city, well-known as a major international port and financial center. With only a little time left in my day, I stopped in at the large Suntec City Mall sporting 350 retail outlets. Its Fountain of Wealth is the largest fountain in the world. It was huge, beautifully designed and the mall had all the well-known designer department stores with busy shoppers. There are also many beautiful boutique hotels within the City. With great places to stay and to shop, Singapore is an entertaining and pleasant destination.
Catching my bus back to the airport for a night flight to India, I watched the buildings and palms go by. Although there is no place without problems in the world, I felt like I had experienced a little bit of what utopia might be. I will always think of my day in Singapore as a perfect day and I felt a huge satisfaction with this glimpse of such a beautiful and successful global city.